Limerick is a mostly misunderstood city in my opinion. Hailed as a dangerous city in the past I think Limerick has come through that particular branding to emerge as one of Ireland’s most exciting cities that’s bursting with history, beautiful hotels, plenty of shopping, top class music venues and restaurants galore!
One of the most special experiences here in my opinion is a visit to King Johns Castle. Perched along the Shannon river this is one of the best preserved Norman castles in Europe. It holds a lot of stories between its walls so I was really looking forward to visiting the castle to see what it had to offer. I was on my own on this particular galavant but the Castle was well signposted from the N24 coming into Limerick. The castle itself is built on an Island so you cross over the river at the Absolute Hotel and follow the road until you see the sign for the visitors car park. Parking here is free and its just a short walk then to the reception of the visitors center. Entry into the Castle for adults is €14. A bit steep I hear you say but you can buy them online for €10 and of course there are discounted rates for kids.
The new visitor center in the Castle was opened in 2013 and they did an amazing job! Once you climb the stairs to the start of the exhibition you are greeted with lots of interactive information on the history of Limerick and how the Castle came to be. Video descriptions and 3D images are everywhere at the start of the exhibition to give you a feeling of what life was like in the early 1200’s in Limerick. King John ordered the building of the Castle back then but he never actually visited it (how rude!- in fairness to him he died not long after it was built). There is lots of information here about Brehon Law- the old ancient Irish laws before the English got their hands on us. One particular law that I found incredibly interesting was that equality for women was very important. Once married, women had equal property rights and could divorce. If their ex husband remarried then they were allowed (under Brehon law) to inflict injury onto their successor! I’m all for girl power but thank god they did away with that law!
As you walk to the exhibition you are taken on a journey from around the time the vikings and the Normans arrived in Ireland in the late 9th century, then through the centurys of English rule and eventually the flight of the earls in 1607 . I can’t even begin to describe how interesting it all is and at the end of it I was actually a bit teary! The visual and audio effects that are used here are amazing and really bring you back in time to when this city was thriving with a busy port, religion and of course some pretty epic battles.
It took me a good hour to get through all of the exhibits on my own but if you are with kids I guarantee you it will take a lot longer. There are lots of interactive activities to do here and of course its all educational at the end of the day. At the end of the exhibit you will come out to the side of the visitor center where I made my way down to the basement of the castle. There has been extensive archeological work done here where they found the remains of the mines that were used during the siege on the castle in 1642.
After walking through this area you come out into the main court yard of the castle and it is pretty impressive with its 4 different towers just screaming out to be explored. To the left of the courtyard there are make shift huts where the people of Limerick would have sold their wares. There is a blacksmith hut here and another one with soldiers armory that you can try on for photos. There is a tower to the left where you can meet the stone mason in charge of building the castle and he will tell you all about his trials and tribulations.
In the main courtyard they have excavated the old banqueting hall so you can walk down into it and get a feel for how small it actually was! This part of the castle was so close to the river though that it had to be rebuilt many times. The castle also had its own church and there is a replica one here also where you can go in and sit and have a pray if you feel the need. The most impressive part of the castle though is to the right of the courtyard where you will find three different towers to climb. All three lead you up staircases onto the roof overlooking Limerick city and the amazing expanse of the river Shannon (Ireland’s longest river). The views from all three towers are pretty amazing.
There are more exhibitions in all three towers telling you about the fortification of the Castle and the bridges that linked it to the city. Looking up the Shannon, away from the city the castle is in a perfect spot to keep an eye on the town. In the middle tower I met Robert De Lees- Sherif of the Castle. He was a pretty scary man I have to say. In one breath he was telling me how well I looked, and 30 seconds later he was threatening to throw me into the castle jail with the rats! There is something exciting around every corner here.
I spent a bit of time taking pictures up on the roof of the castle before heading back down to measure my neck on the stocks- it unfortunately fit quite well so I am glad I didn’t grow up in the 12th century! From the courtyard of the castle you have direct access to the gift shop and cafe at King Johns Castle. Up the stairs from this is yet another exhibition of more recent history. Here you can see the excavation and archeological work that took place to uncover the history of the castle. There’s also a lot more recent history on Limerick. A really fascinating display of information on Newtown Perry is up here which is a must see for anyone interested in architecture and the history of Limerick City. The most Bizarre piece of information was about the social housing project that was built in the late 20th century (Yes! only a few years ago) in the courtyard of the castle! The city was calling out for space back then for houses that they had to build 28 of them in this historic setting! Amazing!
I headed back down the stairs then to grab my compulsory tea and cake and take in the amazing afternoon I had just had in Limerick. If you are down south at all, or even in the west, Limerick is not too far away from you and I would highly recommend a visit! The castle is open all year round (Although I couldn’t find the opening hours online from January- March?) and hosts an array of seasonal events at Halloween and Christmas. If you are planning an overnight trip to Limerick, The Absolute Hotel comes highly recommended and is within walking distance of the castle. We stayed here back in January and the level of service, comfy modern rooms and food were all top class.
I have attached a few helpful links below if you are planning a visit and as always- Happy Galavanting! xx